European Social Charter Is Signed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The European Social Charter established a set of economic and social rights that the signatory nations pledged to protect for their citizens. It marked a major step forward in the guarantee of economic and social rights in Europe.

Summary of Event

The European Social Charter is a convention created by the Council of Europe Council of Europe as a logical extension of the commitment of its members to human rights. The twentieth century showed an increase in concern for human rights, which led to a series of international covenants intended to define and safeguard a wide range of rights. More concern, however, has often been given to political and civil rights than to economic and social rights. The European Social Charter was an attempt by the Council of Europe to rectify this imbalance. European Social Charter (1961) Social justice [kw]European Social Charter Is Signed (Oct. 18, 1961) [kw]Social Charter Is Signed, European (Oct. 18, 1961) [kw]Charter Is Signed, European Social (Oct. 18, 1961) European Social Charter (1961) Social justice [g]Europe;Oct. 18, 1961: European Social Charter Is Signed[07080] [g]Italy;Oct. 18, 1961: European Social Charter Is Signed[07080] [c]Social issues and reform;Oct. 18, 1961: European Social Charter Is Signed[07080] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 18, 1961: European Social Charter Is Signed[07080] Benvenuti, Lodovico Mollet, Guy Dehousse, Fernand

A first step toward development of international standards for human rights was taken by the young United Nations when it issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This was the first international declaration to list social and economic rights, such as the right to work and the right to organize, as being among the rights of the individual. Since it was merely a declaration, however, and not a treaty, the nations of the world had to negotiate agreements that would actually bring about the enactment and protection of these rights.

In Europe, the need for international cooperation to rebuild economies destroyed by World War II and concerns about security produced by the onset of the Cold War combined to produce the Council of Europe. The council was founded on May 5, 1949, by ten Western European states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Its purpose was to facilitate and coordinate agreements among its member states in the fields of economic, scientific, social, legal, and administrative matters. It was also intended to aid in the protection and advancement of human rights and freedoms. The European Social Charter was created to assist in the achievement of that purpose.

The Council of Europe has two major governing bodies. The first is the Consultative (or Parliamentary) Assembly, made up of representatives of the parliaments of the member states. It has only the power to make recommendations to the other governing body, the Committee of Ministers. Composed of the foreign ministers of the member states, the Committee of Ministers has the ability to make recommendations to member nations and also supervises the numerous committees and commissions of the council.

The Council of Europe created two treaties aimed at protecting and increasing human rights in Europe. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed in 1950, sought to protect political and civil rights, while the European Social Charter, signed in 1961, sought to protect economic and social rights. Originally, the council had intended to include economic and social rights in the 1950 human rights convention. Disagreement over which economic and social rights should be included, however, led to the decision to write a separate convention dealing only with economic and social rights. The disagreements stemmed from the relative newness of the idea of fundamental economic and social rights, from the difficulty of defining these rights clearly, and from the differing social structures of the member states.

The process of creating the social charter began in 1953, when the secretariat of the council suggested that a European social charter should be created. After much discussion and the passing of many memoranda among bodies of the council, the parliamentary assembly’s committee on social questions drew up the first draft of the charter, which it submitted on October 26, 1955. This first draft set forth general principles that did not directly establish particular rights but that were intended to form a basis for a common social policy among member nations. It also set forth legal obligations for the signing governments and called for the creation of a European economic and social council to enforce the charter.

Further drafts of the charter followed, resulting in a completed document in October, 1956. It called for a European convention on social and economic rights, listed essentially the same rights as previous drafts, and called for the creation of a European commissioner for social affairs and a European social chamber. The long debate in the assembly reflected the conflict between those who wanted a treaty that was binding on its signers and those who preferred a mere statement of goals. At that point, the draft dealt mainly with the rights of workers. The assembly passed this draft to the Committee of Ministers, which delegated the refining of the draft to its social committee.

The social committee had already been working on a draft charter prior to its receipt of the assembly’s draft. Its efforts had been geared toward a simple statement of goals rather than a binding treaty. It was instructed to end that approach, however, and begin working on a treaty that would be binding in some manner on the signatory states. In February of 1958, it completed its draft; late that year, the draft was submitted to a tripartite conference in Strasbourg. In April of 1959, the draft treaty was sent to the assembly, which referred it to its social affairs committee. After some work, the treaty was returned to the assembly, which adopted the draft on January 21, 1960, by a vote of seventy-three to one, with sixteen abstentions. The draft then went back to the social affairs committee to be given its final form. The end product of this long process strongly reflected standards adopted by the International Labour Conference of the International Labor Organization.

The European Social Charter was signed in Turin, Italy, on October 18, 1961, and came into effect on February 26, 1965. It was originally ratified by Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Later, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands, and Spain also ratified the charter.

Part I of the charter established nineteen fundamental economic and social rights: to work; to just working conditions; to safe working conditions; to fair pay; to organize; to collective bargaining; to work abroad; to vocational guidance; to vocational training; to health protection; to social security; to social and medical care; to benefit from social welfare services; of the disabled to vocational training; of the family to social, legal, and economic protection; of children to protection; of employed women to protection; of mothers and children to social, legal, and economic protection; and of migrant workers and their families to protection and assistance. Part II of the charter specified the specific obligations that these rights created for signatory states. Each article of Part II detailed the specific obligations associated with a particular right.

Part III of the charter permitted nations to ratify the treaty without accepting all of its provisions. Signatory states were required, however, to accept at least five of the seven fundamental articles of Part II. The fundamental articles dealt with the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, of migrant workers, of the family to protection, to work, to social security, and to social and medical assistance. In addition, a ratifying state had to accept a total of ten of the nineteen articles or forty-five of the seventy-two numbered paragraphs from Part II. A state could later ratify articles not originally accepted.

Part IV of the charter set up procedures for overseeing the execution of the other provisions. Each ratifying nation was asked to submit biennial reports on its application of the articles it had ratified and could also be asked to submit reports on the articles it had not ratified.

The treaty designated four bodies that participate in the oversight process. A seven-member committee of independent experts, appointed by the Committee of Ministers, studies the reports from signatory nations and determines to what extent obligations have been met. The governmental committee on the European Social Charter in turn receives the report of the expert committee. This committee is made up of representatives of the contracting states. Up to two international organizations of workers and two of employers can participate as observers at its meetings. The governmental committee presents reports to the Parliamentary Assembly, which reports to the Committee of Ministers. The governmental committee also submits reports directly to the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers takes the final step of making recommendations to the signatory states on actions they should take to further their implementation of the charter. Recommendations must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Committee of Ministers.

The European Social Charter created an international framework designed to encourage the states signing it to achieve certain minimums in economic and social rights. Although the social charter conferred no truly coercive powers on the bodies charged with its implementation, it was the first effort at an international level to guarantee some standard of social and economic rights. When the difficulties faced by an effort to achieve an international consensus on the content of economic and social rights are considered, the European Social Charter becomes a much more impressive achievement.


Since its signing in 1961, the European Social Charter has had a substantial impact on economic and social rights. Of the Council of Europe’s forty-three member states in 2005, twenty-seven had ratified it, although many recognized only certain of its articles. The Netherlands ratified all articles but made an exception in Article 6, because it did not recognize the right of civil servants to bargain collectively. The rights to work, to safe working conditions, and of the disabled to vocational training were the only rights that won wide acceptance.

Since the Council of Europe has no coercive powers over the ratifying states, actual progress in implementing accepted rights has varied. The Committee of Ministers has repeatedly had to inform states that they have failed to meet the standards set by the articles they have accepted. This necessity is complicated by the process used to evaluate the reports submitted by the states. First, the reports often omit necessary information, which causes delay in an already slow process. Second, the language of the treaty is often ambiguous, and many articles require interpretation of their application to actual situations. Third, while the committee of independent experts has proven ready to condemn states for violations of the articles, the governmental committee has been much more reluctant to do so. Not surprising, governmental committee members, as agents of the member governments, have been reluctant to condemn their employers. Problems with reports, the ambiguity of the treaty, and politics within the council have made the implementation of the treaty more difficult than its framers imagined.

Despite the difficulties, the number of violations has declined over time, and the ratifying states have made progress in advancing social and economic rights. Moreover, other international agreements have followed. In 1968, the European Code of Social Security entered into force, as did the European Convention on Social Security in 1977. In 1988, an additional protocol, extending rights, was added to the social charter. Although it has not been able to guarantee compliance with its terms, the European Social Charter has facilitated the expansion and protection of economic and social rights in Europe. Additional Protocols of 1991 and 1995 clarified the functions of the Committee of Independent Experts and the Governmental Committee and allowed NGOs to submit collective complaints. A revised version of the charter was negotiated in 1996 and entered into force in July 1996, expanding the list of rights protected to include such things as the right to housing, protection from sexual harassment, and the rights of workers with family responsibilities, among others. European Social Charter (1961) Social justice

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Betten, Lammy, David Harris, and Teun Jaspers. The Future of European Social Policy. Deventer, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law and Taxation, 1989. A collection of papers and commentary by some of the leading experts on the charter at a conference on the future of European social policy at the University of Utrecht in 1989. Provides a European perspective on the functioning of the charter. Most of the papers are footnoted, but there is no comprehensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Council of Europe. European Social Charter: Collected Texts. 4th ed. Strasbourg, France: Author, 2003. Includes the full texts of both the 1961 and the 1996 charters, as well as their protocols and official reports of the Council of Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the European Social Charter: Origin, Operation and Results of the Charter. Strasbourg, France: Author, 1986. This brief booklet gives a good history of the writing of the charter and how it functions. It also provides a table of which states have ratified which articles and a list of available documents on proceedings resulting from the charter. No other reference features.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“The European Social Charter and International Labour Standards.” Parts 1-2. International Labour Review 84 (November/December, 1961): 354-375, 462-477. A detailed contemporary discussion of the provisions of the social charter and comparison with corresponding international labor standards.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harris, D. J. The European Social Charter. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984. This thorough book examines, article by article, the degree of implementation of the charter by ratifying states. It is quite lengthy and detailed, which makes it complete but sometimes tedious. It has a bibliography, an index, and the text of the charter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jaspers, C. M., and L. Betten, eds. Twenty-Five Years: European Social Charter. Deventer, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law and Taxation, 1988. A collection of articles by legal experts in those states that have ratified articles of the charter. Each article reports on that state’s degree of adherence to the charter. It is quite useful for information on a particular state’s performance. No reference features.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Samuel, Lenia. Fundamental Social Rights: Case Law of the European Social Charter. 2d ed. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe, 2002. Study of the common law developed through cases brought under the provisions of the charter. Bibliographic references and index.

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Categories: History